When I think about God as a protector, I want someone who will shield me from the hardships of life. I want him to protect me from flat tires, heartbreak, cancer, persecution, and, just being painfully honest here, the Tea Party.
It’s tempting to read the verses in the Bible of God as a protector with a kind of absolute interpretation—applying these verses to myself directly as true for all times and places. If I read about God as a shield, I want him to be a shield in all situations.
Such a line of interpretation is tough to sort out. In one sense, we’ll never know how many times God actually protected us. However, in a world with free will to one degree or another, we can’t get around the fact that hardships await us—Jesus promised us as much.
If we want to preserve our relationships with God and avoid the crushing disappointment of misplaced expectations, it will help to examine some ways that God’s protection may work. I understand that my experiences may not be normative for everyone, nor could this post be exhaustive, so I welcome your feedback and stories in the comments.
God Guides Us
God speaks to his people who are willing to listen—Jesus said my sheep hear my voice. That doesn’t mean he reveals everything to us—not even Jesus knew when God’s Kingdom would be fully restored to earth. Nevertheless, we can benefit by the guidance and wisdom of God in certain situations. That may result in our protection and will certainly help us accomplish God’s work on earth.
God Wants Us to Ask
Jesus makes it clear that we should persistently ask God for what we need, but that doesn’t mean we’ll always ask God for what is good for us, what is realistic, or what is God’s best for us. In fact, I’ve sometimes asked God for things that weren’t good for me—things that would have only continued my dependence on idols. It is good to ask for God’s protection sometimes, but only after we have listened for God’s direction and have said, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done.”
God Does Not Follow Formulas and Incantations
Tim mentioned yesterday in a comment that there is no magic formula or prayer that binds God to act in a certain way. In addition, God’s deliverance in one situation does not mean it will be replicated. There were prophets who were both delivered from their enemies and prophets who were attacked.
God Can Protect Us
All of this points to the fact that God can protect us, but his first goal is to shape us into his chosen people who know him intimately and who can bring his Kingdom’s loving rule to earth. That means our protection is more of a by-product of God’s Kingdom coming than a perk we get in return for our allegiance. The more we embrace the Kingdom, the more we can enjoy the healing and restoration it brings, even if we may face trials and hardships at the same time.
God Can Use Hardships
This sounds like a terrible Christian cliché, but I’m pretty sure I can say that each hardship in my life has been used by God in one way or another to help someone else or to draw myself and others closer to himself. Perhaps this is because pain shocks us out of our routines and forces us to encounter God in fresh ways, breaking the hold of bad habits or false perceptions.
God’s Perspective on Tragedy is Different from Our Own
As much as I like the idea of the world having an Ed Cyzewski around, the reality I’ve had to confront is that God has work for me to accomplish, I need to seek him and his Kingdom first (asking God what I can do for him), and then God will call me to himself when my time is up. Paul writes about being absent from the body and present with God, which certainly makes death seem more like a transition into something better than the end of something good.
In fact, I’ve had to accept that God’s perception of pain and tragedy is a bit different from my own. While the Bible consistently reveals God as compassionate and mourning with us, he also sees the many good things that we cannot. I want God to give me a long life, but then again, I’m here to love God first and foremost. If my purpose in life is to love God, then it’s not exactly a tragedy if I leave this world to be with him.
God’s Ways are Hard to Understand
We’ll never really know how free will and God’s sovereignty work. The Bible offers us glimpses of both at work. I don’t know why certain prayers are answered and others are not. I don’t know how God’s protection works. One friend of mine asked whether God even protects us in the first place. Perhaps that’s a matter of perspective. I don’t know. Any time we try to say, “I know God is just like this…” I get nervous.
At best we have approximations and informed opinions based on scripture, tradition, and experience.
We know that God wants us to pray, to ask for things, and to trust him as our shield. It sure seems like he wants us to trust him for his protection, but not before we’ve sought him out and made his Kingdom our primary concern.
I think that’s why folks with Stephen, Paul, Aquilla, and Priscilla were able to face mobs and executioners. They saw God as their mighty deliverer and protector, but they also understood that they needed to lay their lives on the line for his Kingdom and not count their lives as anything worth protecting. The Kingdom came first, God’s protection either followed or didn’t follow.
However, in a more eternal sense, God does protect and deliver his people from sin and the power of death. That is the ultimate victory.
Shane Claiborn writes that the beauty of Christianity is that even if we are killed, God will resurrect us. In a sense, God’s people are unstoppable. Even in the seeming loss of death, we’ve actually taken another step toward our victory.
What This Means for Us
There is a lot at stake when we pray. We have very good reason to listen, to wait on God. If we want to ask for God’s protection, we’d better make sure we’re on the same page as God, moving in step with his Kingdom.
We can misunderstand and misrepresent God if we always expect him to deliver us from pain or hardship or if we always expect him to answer our prayers precisely. It’s far more important to seek his Kingdom and his Spirit’s leading voice. That will lead us to safety and security in him, even if our life circumstances seem anything but safe.
For those seeking first God’s Kingdom, Jesus promises trials and hardships, but he also promises healing, protection, restoration, and provision. Until we wrap our minds around what God’s Kingdom means for us, we’ll probably never quite understand what that healing, protection, restoration, or provision will look like.